COMMENTThe England train rolls on. The Three Lions are building up their reserves of the intangible but precious commodity that is momentum; that innate belief that something is meant to be and that nothing will stop it from happening. Problems debated for years suddenly have solutions; once daunting hurdles can now be jumped.
"No one believed in us at the start but we're gaining momentum at the right time," captain Steven Gerrard said. The feeling is infectious.
Several factors have contributed to the mood that has developed around the England camp. It is not so much one of expectation and hope than of realistic optimism; there is an appreciation of the efforts of the England players against the odds, and faith that they can continue to defy them, but there will be few interested in a harsh inquisition if Roy Hodgson's team are eliminated by Italy in the quarter-final.
There are plenty of parallels to be drawn with the Chelsea team that tore up the form book to win the Champions League. The most experienced players in England's Euro 2012 squad, bar the consistently excellent Ashley Cole, have underachieved throughout their international careers but are winning back the favour of the public as the 'old guard' taking one last valiant stab at success.
|THREE LIONS STILL LACKING BITE
Shots on goal
Capturing the imagination of supporters and reinvigorating the minds of the senior professionals is an exciting group of younger stars that might promise better times ahead. At Stamford Bridge, see Ramires, Juan Mata and David Luiz. For England, Danny Welbeck, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Phil Jones are the future.
Then there is the manager. Like Roberto Di Matteo, Hodgson has tried to take England back to basics, repeatedly deploying his players in a structured 4-4-2 formation and insisting that the Three Lions be the most organised team in Poland and Ukraine with all players fully aware of what is expected of them.
Assessed objectively, without the buoyancy of their escalating levels of momentum, England have been distinctly average in their three matches so far and it is remarkable that the performances they have delivered have resulted in them matching their best-ever record in the first round of a European Championship.
Against Ukraine, England were on the back foot for the majority of the 90 minutes in Donetsk and survived Marko Devic's 'phantom goal' thanks to Fifa and Uefa's continued resistance to goal-line technology. They then proceeded to score the winner when Gerrard's cross ricocheted off of two Ukraine players and their goalkeeper before popping up for Wayne Rooney to head into an empty net.
Days earlier, after a decent first half in Kiev against Sweden, England capitulated after the break and might never have regained a grip on the game had Theo Walcott not volleyed in a somewhat fluky equaliser immediately after joining the match as a substitute.
|THREE LIONS TO ROAR?
|11/1||England are 11/1 to beat Italy 2-0 at Euro 2012 with William Hill|
England have been exceptionally lucky, but there is a conviction among players and supporters alike that their good fortune is not random chance. Many would disagree with that notion and predict that against Italy, or perhaps Germany in a potential semi-final, they will finally be found out.
Chelsea took it all in their stride and went all the way. Perhaps two miracles is too much to ask for in less than three months but for now, England will enjoy the ride.